Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Feast of Guadalupe

Virgen de Guadalupe
Today, throughout Mexico, is the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, its Patron Saint.
The day is observed in many ways, with processions, masses and, in some parts of the country, with long-distance journeys made by individuals to honor a promise made to Guadalupe.  Please click the link to see the unique way in which the day is marked in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula-

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thanksgiving, Olé: Colonial Spain and the First Thanksgiving


Could there be anything more "all-American" than our Thanksgiving Day?  Pilgrims and Indians joining hands in a feast that heralded a new nation.  Turns out that, as is so often the case with history, we need to think again.  Without the roundabout intervention of Colonial Spain, there might never have been a Thanksgiving Day, at all.
Please click the link to see what this is all about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Take a Tour of Dia de los Muertos Without Leaving Your Home

Items for Dia de los Muertos Altars, Oaxaca, MX
Dia de los Muertos links the living and the dead for a short while, October 31-November 3, and is one of the visually most striking celebrations in all of Mexico.  Click this link and take a tour of Dia de los Muertos throughout Mexico.

Man with relative's skull, Pomuch, Campeche, MX

By far, the most unique Dia de los Muertos is in Pomuch in the state of Campeche, where they actually take out the bones of dead ancestors to clean them, as seen above.

Hope you enjoy your tour!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Church Ruins of Antigua, Guatemala

La Recolleción, Antigua, Guatemala

The churches of Mexico and all of Latin America are vibrant places, and retain their vibrancy even in a ruined state.  The church ruins I wrote about several years ago, in the state of Quintana Roo, are just one example.

Oaxaca Cathedral, Oaxaca MX

Buildings in many places in Latin America are at-risk from the frequent earthquakes in these zones of frequent seismic activity.  In fact, this environment prompted a new style of architecture that would be more earthquake resistant.  The Oaxaca Cathedral in Oaxaca Mexico typifies the solidity with which these churches have been built. There are none of the slender bell-towers and sky-grazing spires of churches in other places; these churches are rock-solid. Please follow the link below to learn more about this "Earthquake Baroque" architectural style.

Yet, even the most stringent architectural guidelines are not a guarantee; Latin America  bears testimony to the destructive power of earthquakes. The churches of Antigua, Guatemala are one case in point.  Although the original structures are gone, some of their outline and all of their spirit remains.  It is impossible to walk through a church ruin without sensing it is still a holy place.

San Jose Cathedral Cloisters:

Cloister ruins of San Jose Cathedral, Antigua, Guatemala
The Antigua (San Jose)  Cathedral has been damaged by earthquakes since the original church was built in 1541.  It was rebuilt and consecrated in 1680 and then again seriously damaged again in the earthquake of 1773. The church has since been rebuilt, but the cloisters have not and these cloister ruins remain a beautiful tribute to the past. 

Cloister ruins of San Jose Cathedral, Antigua, Guatemala

Church of Santo Domingo

This former Dominican Monastery dates from 1538 and was destroyed in the 1773 Santa Maria earthquake that destroyed the San Jose Cathedral.  Today, the old church-convent is a cultural complex that includes a museum and a hotel.  

Santo Domingo Convent ruins, Antigua, Guatemala

Santo Domingo Convent ruins, Antigua, Guatemala

Santo Domingo Convent ruins, Antigua, Guatemala

La Recolección:

This mission complex built by the order of Recollects in 1717 included classrooms, a library, hospital and cloisters. It was damaged by an earthquake in 1751 then largely destroyed in the major Santa Maria earthquake in 1773.  Today it is surrounded by a park. The mission remains hauntingly beautiful in its destroyed state.

La Recolección ruins, Antigua, Guatemala

La Recolección ruins, Antigua, Guatemala
La Recolección ruins, Antigua,Guatemala

La Recolección ruins, Antigua, Guatemala
La Recolección ruins, Antigua, Guatemala

Why Visit Church Ruins?
Churches, like the human beings they are built to serve, have an interdependent physical and spiritual component.  Even when their physical structure is destroyed, what they were and what they meant to people remains.  This is what makes church ruins such compelling places.  They are places of spiritual memory, something that cannot be destroyed.  Touring the church ruins of Antigua, Guatemala, or anywhere else, is as valuable experience as visiting the functioning churches themselves.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Oaxaca Comes to Life in a Procession: a new video

Add caption
This past February I wrote about a colorful group reunion that took the form of a procession on the streets of Oaxaca City.  I have now have made a video of this event, which brings the beautiful Tehuana costumes to life and gives viewers an opportunity to see the incredible Colonial architecture of the city as the procession moves along its streets.

 My video is available at:

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Music of Holy Week Processions: Guatemala and Nicaragua (with video)

Float from Holy Week Procession, Granada Nicaragua

Holy Week processions in Latin America are visually phenomenal, but they are more than just beautiful and moving  visual imagery.  Their sounds set the tone and music written especially for these solemn processions is an important part of the pageantry.    Holy Week processional music is funeral music that helps create the somber mood of the impending death of Jesus on Good Friday.   For the most part they are marches that give a sense of drive and movement to the processions. Please watch my video to hear some of this music, as well as see the sights.
Although there are some variations from area to area, the basic musical genre remains the same.

In the video, you saw footage of the Viacrucis Aquatic, a unique water-borne procession of the Way of the Cross on Lake Nicaragua in Granada Nicaragua, The photos below are from this procession and you will notice musical instruments in the second photo, the band for the procession.  They play the distinct funeral marches written specifically for Holy Week  For a more in-depth look at the Viacrucis Aquatic, please visit-

Lead float bearing image of Jesus, Viacrucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

Processional Band, Viacrucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua: A Totally Unique Holy Week Event

Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
The Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, is the series of images (usually 14) showing Jesus on the day of his crucifixion, along with the related prayers.  During the period of Lent and, particularly, on Good Friday there are many Via Crucis processions in Latin American countries. Typically, stations portraying the stations will be set up along streets and pilgrims walk between stations, stopping at each for specific prayers and benedictions.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with this ritual, please click this link for more in-depth information-

Granada, Nicaragua has a totally unique form of the Via Crucis that is performed on the water in small boats and know as Via Crucis Aquatic; it is the only place in Latin America where this is done.  This aquatic Viacrucis happens on Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua), the largest lake in Central America and is occurs a few times in the week preceding Easter. Hotels and tourist information cannot tell you when they are because there is no set schedule for them.  I was advised to go and inquire at Guadalupe Church, which hosts processions, to find a time and possibly get a ticket.

Guadalupe Church, Granada Nicaragua

The day I went to Guadalupe church, I was lucky, because the office was open and I speak enough Spanish to explain what I was wanted.  I paid a nominal fee and was handed this ticket.

Via Crucis Aquatic ticket
As I later discovered, I had hit the jackpot without knowing it.  The ticket was for the Wednesday before Easter on the lead boat, the one carrying the holy image (imagen) of Jesus Nazareno.  Commercial tours that offer the Via Crucis Aquatic, put tourists in boats that follow the actual water-borne religious procession, but this little purple ticket placed me square in the midst of the procession on the lead boat. Most tourists, if they are lucky, find a boat from which to observe the procession; being a part of the procession, as I was, was  totally different.

You will notice that the time listed on the ticket was 6:30 am, which meant that I had to be at Guadalupe Church early Wednesday morning. From there the group, mostly congregation members, boarded a van to the lake and our boat.

In van, on the way to the Via Crucis Aquatic

Lake Nicaragua, Cocibolca, is a huge body of water with an outlet to the Atlantic
Granada is located on its shore and in it are 365 small islands (Islets of Granada) located just southeast of the city of Granada; many of them are inhabited either on a full-time or part-time vacation basis. Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America.

Cocibolca, (Lake Nicaragua), Granada Nicaragua

A band that would play during the Viacrucis procession was already loaded on board and everyone was handed a life jacket for the duration of the nearly 6 hour journey, that would include no bathroom breaks!

Boat readied for Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Band instruments on board boat for Via Crucis Aquatic procession, Granada Nicaragua

Below, other boats are loading passengers before taking their place in the procession.

Boats loading for Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

Because ours was the lead boat, the boat carrying the religious image, members of the clergy came on board to conduct the service.

Clergy on board lead boat, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

The boat took off without a statue and at the first island stop, a statue of Jesus Nazareno, the imagen or image referred to on my ticket, was taken from a small chapel where it had been and loaded onto the front of our boat to lead the procession and remain there until the Viacrucis was over hours later. In Latin America significant statues are sometimes lent among churches in a kind of solemn interchange.

Image of Jesus Nazareno being loaded onto Via Crucis Aquatic boat,  Granada Nicaragua
Jesus Nazarene aboard Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

Here is a photo of me on the boat as the event gets underway; how I managed to have the luck to get on this boat I still do not know.

Author aboard in Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

The boats in the procession made 14 stops, one for each of the stations of the Cross, each time pulling up at another of the tiny islands, the isletas, that dot Lake Nicaragua.  At each stop, after the prayers,  people offered flowers and fruit to image of Jesus. These offerings were absolutely beautiful and rapidly filled the boat's floor.

Offerings, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

The band played frequently throughout the event, often when approaching or leaving a station.  Their music consisted of the funeral marches typical of the area.  These, during the colonization of Latin America, were adapted to military bands that accompanied funerals and so in addition to being sombre have a military feeling as well. They are of a specific musical genre having initially been written by composers with very little musical training.  

Band playing during Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

There were two kinds of boats out on Cocibolca that day, boats participating in the procession and sight-seeing boats following the processional boats. Below are some of the many tour boats, since the event is a popular one for tourists. Observing the procession and being a part of it are two entirely different things.

Tourist Boats during Via Crucis Aquatic, Lake Nicaragua

Each Station of the Cross had been carefully decorated by the inhabitants of the various islands. 

Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada NIcaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Station of the Cross, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

As the procession went along the boat became more and more laden with the offerings that were given by the islanders at each stop.  Some people donated money to the church and there was a designated person onboard to collect it. At the end of the Via Crucis some of the fruit was sold to people on the boat who wanted it and some remained for the church and clergy and to be distributed among the needy.

Flower Offering, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

Fruit Offering, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua
Fruit Offering, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

Floral Offering, Via Crucis Aquatic, Granada Nicaragua

At the Via Crucis' end, the statue of Jesus was removed from the boat, to be returned 
to its "home" church in the city.

Jesus Nazareno about to be removed from Via Crucis  Aquatic boat, Granada Nicaragua


All Via Crucis are solemn devotional events, but Granada's Via Crucis Aquatic is more than just that.  It is not only an opportunity for personal devotion for participants, but an celebration that unites Granada and its outlying islands, giving the community a chance to come together in an activity that has meaning for all.  It is a solemn celebration, but also one with much beauty and its own sort of joy. Money is raised for the church and some of the offerings are donated to the needy.   

The Via Crucis Aquatic is a unique experience, and a local mainstay of Holy Week in Granada.  It is offered as a highlight on all tours to the area, even though tourists are advised that there is a chance one may not be available on the day or days they are there.

I plan on making a video of the Via Crucis Aquatic in the near-future.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Good Friday Procession: An Invisible Participant

Semana Santa, Holy Week, is the final week of the church's observance of Lent, the 
40 day (more or less) penitential period of the church leading up to Easter.  In Mexico and all of Latin America, Semana Santa is a major event, marked by religious processions and ritual.  The Holy Week processions of certain places are famous, particularly the world-famous processions of Antigua, Guatemala.  Please follow the links below to see previous posts and videos of some of these:

As you can see from the videos, processional figures and floats are elaborate and their imagery rich.  The major actors from the biblical accounts of the last week of Jesus' earthly life are represented in beautiful and costly images, as in this float bearing Jesus carrying his cross    

Add caption

However there is one curious exception you will see on Holy Friday in Antigua. In the photos below we see a procession forming at the magnificent early 18th century church of San Francisco el Grande.  There are the incense and standard bearers and some of the clergy in front of the church's magnificent baroque façade.

Good Friday procession, San Francisco church, Antigua Guatemala
Good Friday procession, San Francisco church, Antigua Guatemala

A red velvet canopy emerges carried by four men in the traditional hoods that conceal their faces and identities.  There is no image visible under this canopy and it remains empty to our eyes throughout the long procession.  Yet, it leads the procession.

Good Friday procession, San Francisco Church, Antigua Guatemala
The Holy Spirit in procession,  Good Friday procession, Antigua Guatemala

Although the canopy looks empty, to the eyes of faithful believers it is not.
The occupant is the Holy Spirit, the spiritual force that breathed life into being and continues to support creation.  In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit, along with God the Father and Jesus, is one part of the Trinity, a concept that was the end of long theological debate centuries ago. 

In Latin American religious art, the Holy Spirit is typically represented as a bird. This can be seen in both Mexican depictions of the Trinity below.

Holy Trinity, Merida Cathedral, Merida MX
Trinity, Itzimna Church, Merida MX

Another typical Latin American representation of the Trinity is as one of three actual persons, as in this New Mexican santo.

Santo of Holy Trinity by Jose Maria Benavides, New Mexico

Yet, in the Antigua procession, there is no image.  This representation of the Holy Spirit without any image is not seen in many (if any other) Holy Week processions where the focus is on Jesus, Mary, St. John and other central participants in the biblical accounts of the final week of Jesus' earthly life.  It is something unique in the Latin American world, although perhaps there are precedents in Spain where the processions have a longer history, stemming from medieval times.